Archive | June, 2014

Hello Something

6 Jun
A handy fortune teller right there when you arrive at BKK airport

A handy fortune-teller right there when you arrive at BKK airport


Hello! This post comes to you direct from Jakarta, Indonesia. For those with no time to read, photos are at the bottom.

A lot has happened (once again) since my last post. Before Liz and I set off for a 2-week trip to Thailand, we got a chance to celebrate the Lao new year (pii mai). I won’t dawdle too much about it as not only am I over a month late but a few of the other volunteers here have already written about it on their blogs. If you’d like to read more about this awesome, week-long celebration then you can do so here and here.

To summarise, it involves bucket loads of water, beer and Super Soakers. It puts water restrictions and conservation to shame. Considering the exactly same thing happens in Thailand which has almost 10 times the population of Laos, you begin to see the picture.

Here’s a video to help you understand what I’m talking about.

Songkran festivities

Songkran festivities

The Thailand trip was really fun and it was nice to be in a more developed country for a while. We certainly made the most of the food options by eating ourselves to daily standstills. Bangkok, Chiang Mai and the beaches were all awesome.

We started out in Bangkok where the malls had a constant smell of tiger balm (Jimmy, here is a link for you). The Thais call their version of the new year celebrations, Songkran, and we landed right in the middle of the water fights that were raging all across the country. When it’s 40 degrees outside, a country-wide water fight sounds awesome but when people add ice inside their water pistols it adds a whole other dimension to the game.  Luckily we arrived ready with rubbish bags for our luggage and plastic pouches for the wallets and phones.

We had a rough idea of what we wanted to do while in Thailand but hadn’t yet booked flights or accommodation when we arrived. We decided that Chiang Mai was next, a place that I had heard so many good things about before. On our second day there, we hired a random driver (Mr Chai) with an awesome car to take us out of the city to see the Mae Sa waterfall, Tiger Kingdom, Monkey School and the Huay Tung Tao lake. We attempted to rent one of those cycling boats on the lake but the rental guy took one look at me and just said “overweight”. I tried to take his advice as constructive criticism.

The highlights and lowlights of the day were had at the Tiger Kingdom and Monkey School. While both places provided some great entertainment and excitement, it was really sad to see the monkeys at the Monkey School chained up and pacing around their enclosures, clearly in distress. It was one of those surreal experiences where the tricks performed by the monkeys were really cool but the way they live was not so cool. It’s really hard to get much information on these places. Apparently the monkeys get let out onto the main property outside business hours but who knows if that’s actually true or not. In hindsight, I would definitely go to see the tigers again but probably not the monkey place.

The next day we hired a couple of trusty bicycles and spent the day touring around the Old City of Chiang Mai and then headed north-east to the Chiang Mai Zoo. I hadn’t been to the zoo for ages and this one was awesome. We got to TOUCH and feed hippos, giraffes and an elephant!!! There were also a whole bunch of other cool animals there.

In Laos, Liz always gets mistaken for a local and I have a great time asking her what they said to her as I know she doesn’t understand a word but politely nods along. Well, it was the same in Thailand except that not only did the locals think she was Thai but she also got local prices for some of the attractions. We also came up with many creative ways to save and cut costs but I won’t get into that as they weren’t all entirely legal.

Everywhere we went, there were stalls filled with random stuff that locals were trying to sell to ‘falang’ like us. A common way of enticing the foreigners to look at their stall was by calling out “hello, something” as you pass by. This is matched in Laos by similar stall holders calling out “looking” to passersby.

Following our week-long city stay, we spent the second week at the beach. First at Koh Lanta, an island just south of Krabi and then a few days at Railay which is located on the mainland and has some really beautiful beaches.

On our last day at Koh Lanta, we hired a motorbike and spent the day riding up and down the island. We went to the really interesting Lanta Animal Welfare shelter and saw how they employee volunteer travelers to help the local cat and dog population. We then headed south and managed to find this awesome spot overlooking the sea where we watched the sun set, sipping on the local brew.

Sunset at Koh Lanta

Sunset at Koh Lanta

I liked Railay better than Koh Lanta if for no other reason than that on the first night we got to watch Wolf Creek 2 at this outdoor restaurant while it absolutely bucketed down (which only added to the horror movie vibe). As weird as it might sound, Wolf Creek actually made me homesick. This was until we got back to our accommodation and were promptly kept awake half the night by one of the most bogan groups of Aussies I have ever met. They were from Queensland.

Overall, I loved Thailand. We ate at so many buffets that I don’t want to see another buffet for a long time. Thailand is a much more dynamic place than Laos which you would expect as it’s almost 10 times larger. Both Bangkok and Chiang Mai were cool in their own rights and the beaches were really nice. They still have nothing on Australian beaches mainly because the beaches back home have waves. I know, I know, there was that whole tsunami thing but seriously, it’s only for so long that you can waddle around in still water.

Following our holiday in Thailand, I was called up to drive north to Luang Prabang for work. This time it was to start a new project with the local government office. We were to survey the ground around the two weirs we are planning on building fishways for, install water level rulers and undertake a fish survey over the entire wet season. The plan was to engage the local fisherman at both villages to catch fish for an hour, once a week and record it all on a simple data sheet. Having translated the data sheets into Lao, we spent two days driving out to the sites, meeting the Naibans (village chiefs) and having lunch with everyone. It was really interesting to interact with the villagers and see more of how they live outside the main cities. No trip is ever complete here however without a binge drinking session which the group managed to do at one of the engineer’s restaurants. Karaoke was included.

However, my favourite experience while up there was definitely an impromptu dinner at our driver’s friend’s house. Both named, Bounphan. Bounphan the Friend (BtF) lives in a really cool house, the inside of which is completely covered in wood furnishings from floor to ceiling. Once Bounphan the Driver told BtF that I could speak Russian, BtF became really intrigued and excited that he could once again practice his Russian. We pretty much became best friends instantly after that moment.

It was awesome getting a chance to practice Russian while also interacting with a local. A lot of the 50 year olds over here studied somewhere in the former Soviet Union which is where they learned their Russian and communist skills. Over the course of the night, BtF managed to bring out five different bottles of Lao Lao (the local moonshine), one of which contained bile from a bear’s spleen, imported all the way from China.

Back home, things have rolled along and I am now over 7 months through this adventure. I can’t believe how fast time has flown and it won’t be long before I’ll be back to a more (less) familiar environment. I’m both anxious and excited about the next 6 months.

More recently, Liz and I went on a weekend trip to a really remote little eco-retreat called Dreamtime, about 25km north of Vientiane. To get there, we hired a motorbike for the weekend. On the way there we had a small stack as the last 2km was on a really dodgy off-road track. A broken mirror and some cuts and bruises were all that were sustained. However, on our way back to town, we has to drive home first so that I could fix the broken mirror and so that we could put on pants to hide our scratches. The motorbike rental place didn’t even take a second look at the bike, I guess as long as it still had two wheels and could go, they were happy.

So that’s a brief summary of the adventures since I last wrote here. Elizabeth and I are currently taking a short holiday in Indonesia, getting wined and dined by her family and friends. We’ve also got a couple of days in Kuala Lumpar before heading home so that Liz can pack her bags and say goodbye to Laos. It’s been an awesome experience having her here and I’m sure it will be really strange once she goes home.


Not only am I about to say goodbye to Liz but we also recently said goodbye to our beloved dog, Pac. With Liz going and me constantly away on work trips, we decided to find a new home for him. There was no way of taking him back to Australia due to the customs restrictions and we did rescue him from being put down so all in all, it was the best outcome. It was really sad to see him go but luckily I can still visit him at his new home until I leave Laos later this year.

Till next time,


Elizabeth with a cowboy

Elizabeth with a cowboy


One of the many Thai malls that we visited. A staple of locals and tourists alike.


Monkey playing basketball

Monkey playing basketball at the Monkey School

Bit of a bushwalk to the top of the waterfall

Bit of a bushwalk to the top of the waterfall



Chiang Mai night markets

Chiang Mai night markets


Feeding an elephant at Chiang Mai Zoo




Liz and a hippo – love at first sight


Liz + tiger

Liz + tiger

This one was a bit angry (check out its open mouth and the 'I'm about to bite you' pose

This one was a bit angry (check out its open mouth and the ‘I’m about to bite you’ pose


Temple hoping in Bangkok

Temple hopping in Bangkok

Building fish traps and getting ready for the wet season experiments at Pak Peung

Building fish traps and getting ready for the wet season experiments at Pak Peung

Work lunch at Luang Prabang province

Work lunch at Luang Prabang province




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